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It seems odd that a minor noble rides the coattails of the French Revolution into power, and then cloaks himself and his extended family in opulence. The same level of opulence that led to the bloody demise of the Ancien Regime series of French monarchs. Clearly, Napoleon Bonaparte was no George Washington. Uncharacteristically for a monarch – or perhaps only pragmatically – when Louis XVIII ascended the throne (for the second time) after the final exile of Napoleon in 1815, he modestly maintains the new Charter of 1814 (a constitutional monarchy) and keeps his head.
Nevertheless, the “Napoleon: Power and Splendor” exhibition currently at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents a powerful, shimmering reflection of imperial wealth, grandeur and French artistic elegance. A few splendid details are shown here.